Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I see are those two words, printed in white on a light blue silicone bracelet I wear on my right wrist. I never take the bracelet off, so I see the words not only first thing in the morning but all day long.
Seeing "atTAcK addiction," spelled in its quirky little way, hundreds of times a day constantly reminds me of three things: 1.) Addiction kills and no one's immune from it. 2.) There are parents out there who are true heroes, so selfless that they are willing to use their own unthinkable tragedy to help others. And 3.) We need to fight and advocate for addicts and the disease of addiction every single day.
atTAcK addiction may drive my spell check crazy, but it's spelled the way it is for a reason. The capital T, A, and K stand for Tyler Armstrong Keister, who died from a heroin overdose on December 23, 2012. He was 24 years old. I never met Tyler, but everything I read about him indicates that he was a great kid. His story on the atTAcK addiction website describes him this way: "Tyler was a good athlete, smart, funny and witty, with a great sense of humor. Most importantly, he was a kind, compassionate and loving person."
Tyler played soccer, baseball, and football. He ran track and was a swimmer. He was very active in his church and school. A handsome and talented kid, Tyler was named class homecoming "Prince" three of his four years in high school. That doesn't sound like your stereotypical drug addict, does it? Yet there is a family out there whose life has an immeasurable hole in it. Because addiction kills and no one is immune from it.
So what does that family do after losing their beloved son to this horrible disease? They start an organization called atTAcK addiction. Their mission? "Through Tyler's tragic death from a drug overdose we hope to help young people realize the dangers of alcohol and drugs so that they, and their families, never have to experience the pain, tragedy, and loneliness that accompany addiction."
Tyler's amazing parents, Jeanne and Don Keister, along with his older brother and sister, are heroes. They could've been ashamed of Tyler's death and gone into hiding. I imagine a lot of families do just that after one of their own dies of a drug overdose. But the Keisters didn't do that. They took their horrible negative and reframed it into an incredible positive. They decided that they were going to educate others about addiction, help lead the fight against the disease, and work to break the stigma associated with it.
In addition to their website, the Keisters also have an atTAcK addiction Facebook page and a Twitter account. They have monthly meetings at Tyler's former high school, the Caravel Academy in Bear, Delaware. And they host events to help raise awareness about addiction.
The next big atTAcK addiction event is the inaugural atTAck addiction 5K race on Saturday, March 1st, in Old New Castle, Delaware. (March 1st is Tyler's birthday.) If you're into running or walking--or a combination of both--and you're not too far away, I encourage you to sign up and participate in this event, whose theme is "E-racing the Stigma." You can register for the race here. My wife and I will be attending, so maybe we'll see you there.
Besides the Keisters, there will be another hero at the race: Brad Spicer, a truly remarkable and inspirational man in recovery, who ran 7,000 miles in one year to raise awareness about addiction--after he had run 5,000 miles the year before! Yes, the amazing man behind Project Run 7000 will be leading the race.
And speaking of heroes, one last word about Tyler Keister. He was an organ donor and his heart, liver, and kidneys went to people in need and extended their lives.
Addiction discriminates against no one. The world needs to wake up and realize this and bring about change in the way people view and treat the disease and its victims. "That can't happen to me" too often turns into "I can't believe this is happening to me." We need to fight and advocate for addicts and the disease of addiction every single day. Every single day.
P.S. I should note that, along with Dave Humes and Liz Perkins--two other parents who lost their sons to addiction--the Keisters work with Gary Mendell. Gary also lost a son to addiction and started the phenomenal organization called Shatterproof. Shatterproof is "an unprecedented movement to decisively tackle the disease of addiction to alcohol and other drugs and bridge the enormous gap in addiction resources." You should definitely check out their website.
As Jeanne Keister told me, "Like Dave says, 'We, not I.'" Amen to that.
|Tyler Armstrong Keister|